Atmospheric Sciences Editors' Highlights

How Does Convection Work Over the Tropics?

A new conceptual framework on how convection works in the tropics helps advance understanding of the contrast between land and ocean and how the tropics will respond to climate change.

Source: Geophysical Research Letters


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One important topic in tropical meteorology is the geographical distribution of rainfall across the tropics, given that there are deserts, as well as tropical rainforests, which receive a very high amount of rainfall. Using an idealized theoretical framework for the tropical atmosphere, Zhang and Fueglistaler [2020] explain important features of the tropical atmosphere in observations and models. In particular, while precipitation has very different features over land and ocean, the mean moist-static energy in the subcloud layer has very similar distributions over land and over ocean in convective regions. This result is associated with a horizontally uniform free tropospheric temperature over the tropics.

This similarity of moist static energy over land and ocean is valid both using reanalysis fields and satellite observations to determine convective areas, as well as in CMIP5 model simulations under a variety of different climate scenarios. Therefore, this very idealized framework is very useful to understand observations and will helpful to determine how the tropics will respond to anthropogenic climate change.

Citation: Zhang, Y., & Fueglistaler, S. [2020]. How tropical convection couples high moist static energy over land and ocean. Geophysical Research Letters, 47, e2019GL086387. https://doi.org/10.1029/2019GL086387

—Suzana Camargo, Editor, Geophysical Research Letters

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